NZ – N. Island, The Fellowship Continues

NZ – N. Island, The Fellowship Continues

Written by: Jessica
Captions by: Diego

Disclaimer: More LOTR and Hobbit jokes ahead.

We continued that educational theme the next day by a trip to Te Puia, a geothermal valley that has a Maori arts and cultural educational center, and a kiwi bird breeding center. They keep two birds in an enclosure inside a building that they keep dark during the day, and light at night, so that tourists can see the birds and learn about them.  Although parts of Rotorua smell like sulfur due to the geysers at Te Puia, the whole area was really special and we both really liked the region. The cultural part of Te Puia was truly amazing. We were able to walk through exhibits about the different art forms that the Maori had traditionally created.  Many were functional such as carved canoes, weapons, and clothes.  What made it even more impressive was being able to watch carvers working on some of these pieces in the traditional style while playing modern rock music.

This place already started out with a cool entrance, we were in for a treat.
The cultural center had a lot of different NZ and Maori exhibitions, starting out with a huge hand-carved boat.
Lots of detail throughout the boat.
These huts are rebuilt every few months/years from scratch. How the Maori originally lived.
LOTS of geysers!
Sediment build up over the years.
A Kiwi bird burring under some brush. Kiwis are nocturnal animals, the red lights allow us to see them but it’s also very easy on their eyes. This is why you use red light when developing film, it doesn’t impact the exposure paper. You learned two things today, dear reader.
This Kiwi is a bit dead. They’re fairly large and highly territorial, when alive.
Multiple stations showing different kinds of Maori artisin items.
It was really cool seeing the start and end processes for each of the different subjects regarding weapons (as shown), jewelry, carving, clothing, and a few other. 
It’s not exactly old-school methods now considering the Maori didn’t have drill presses or microscopes some 300 years ago.
Woodworkers have a large shop area to work with. They were listening to Aerosmith and Guns and Roses while working on a delicate totem.
A woodworker carving out a section of a boat while listening to “Welcome to the Jungle” in the background.
A larger storage area for finished and unfinished goods. Fun fact, they only work on wood that was grown in New Zealand.

After a day spent at Te Puia, we spent the evening kayaking with Waimarino. The kayaking was fairly easy, though there was a learning curve as I tried to learn to steer the sea kayak with pedals. Diego took the front so he could try to take photographs. Our goal was to photograph the glow worms that we would see in a narrow canyon during the kayak. Unfortunately, we were unable to take photos, but trust me: it was beautiful! Kayaking at night and watching the stars come out was also pretty amazing.

Just before departing, we had to wait until sunset. Paddling that kayak was a lot of work but worth it with that image in the background.
We arrived about two hours after. I really wish I could have taken photos of the glow worms. Sadly, it was too dark, I needed a tripod as it was a little like shooting the night sky.

The next day we left Rotorua and headed toward a small town called Turangi. There was some anxiety that our next day’s plan, to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, was doomed as bad weather was expected. We had planned to do the hike because the mountain the hike goes over was filmed from a distance as Mt. Doom. During our preparations we learned that while the mountain portrays Mt. Doom, the up-close scenes had to use a different mountain nearby because the mountain is considered sacred and climbing away from the designated paths is not permitted. You really can’t just walk through Mordor! Luckily, the day of the hike was clear until the evening, so we were able to complete it!

The starting point of our quest. Our tales will require about three books and possibly a prequel as well.
About the closest thing you get to a GPS as our phones didn’t work here.
We severely underestimated how much uphill walking would be needed. That 19.4km is mostly hills and mountains. No way Frodo and Sam were fat Hobbits after all that walking.
Sunrise was breathtaking to see during the cool and crisp morning.
About 1.5 hours into it, the sign tells you to turn around if you’re not brave enough, very reassuring. We did hesitate a bit as a large storm was supposed to hit us in the afternoon (makes hiking dangerous).
There was so much walking up stairs. Little did we know this was the easy part of the hike up.
Making to the top of this pass was awesome. This was about 9am or so. Lots more walking to go.
We pressed on and found this lovely view of Mt. Tongariro – most people would know it as Mt. Doom. Fun fact: They used the mountain as a backdrop for the movie, you cannot hike to the summit as it is sacred to the Maori. Instead, any shot of Frodo/Sam walking on it was done on another mountain.
The journey continued through an empty field and then up this crazy-steep pass. No stairs this time, all rocks, gravel, and sand. We rushed to get to this section before the storm otherwise there was no way to cross it safely.
It got steeper and worse, looks like Mars. This was our path up, to the right and straight.
We got to the top of the second pass and got an incredible view of the path we covered.
I love this photo.
A panorama of part of the range.
The views were amazing from the top. Yes, I was carrying with me my tripod the entire time, almost every day of this trip in case I need it for “that” shot.

A warning to the rest of the world: Kiwis love hiking and do it a lot. The guide listed a segment of the hike as easy: 15 minutes downhill. It sounded great, after some very challenging hiking to get to that point. When we arrived to that point, we found a steep sand and shale path that sunk under every step. It took at least double the time to get down, and we both fell a few times (six for me, but who is counting?). This was a trend: the information said it should take about 6 hours. It took us 8.5 hours to complete the 19 km hike.  By the end, we were exhausted and we both had some sore muscles for the next couple of days.

We started our descent from the range. The Emerald Lakes on the left were the first stop. Note, the decent is to the left side, there is nothing on the right
Mercifully, the descent was easier and had a few rest areas.
We stopped at the little cabin in the previous photo. The storm was beginning to show but no rain yet.
After hours of walking down, we reached a forest.
And a flood warning sign. We reached the end point several minutes later. It started to pour hard the moment we got back on the road. We REALLY lucked out at that point – I loved every minute of it.

The next day, our fifth full day in New Zealand, we spent driving, stopping to take photos along the way. One of the major stops was Kaitoke Regional Park, where they filmed Rivendale. Filming started 20 years ago (about 1998) there. The magic of the elves was in full effect as the site was so small you never could have imagined the small area becoming The Last Homely House. The 20 years since filming began and our trip also made it a lot harder to recognize the trees, though its supposedly possible.

OMG OMG OMG, we’re actually going to Rivendale!! The entrance and everything!!
The book character’s height, Legolas was very tall. Sauron might as well have been on stilts or played for the NBA.
What the film portrayed Rivendale to look like. 
What it actually looked like. It was either LOADS of movie magic or this area wasn’t kept as well as other LOTR sites (Hobbiton, for example). The tree on the left is the same tree that stands out in the picture above.
This is where Saruman’s army was built, right next to an enormous kids park. 

That evening we arrived at Wellington. The day we arrived, my phone gave up and died.  We’d been having some challenges from it beginning the very day we left on the trip and it decided to not recognize the USB charger anymore and didn’t have wireless charging capabilities. We went about town and tried to get it fixed, but nobody was able to do so, meaning a new phone needed to be purchased. That task was completed after a morning spent at Zealandia, learning all about some different New Zealand animals. The day tour was really interesting, but I’d highly recommend paying the extra (and booking farther in advance) for an evening tour as much of the birdlife comes out then—and it gives you access to the park during the day as well.

This little car has taken us everywhere, what a trooper (especially considering it had some serious electrical issues).
The AirBnB was lovely and easy to park. Wellington reminded me a lot of San Francisco – though cheaper and easier parking.
Lots o’ driving up a mountain on narrow and rainy roads. I was pretty used to this scenario by this point.
The park is MASSIVE and completely fenced in. New Zealand is seriously trying to preserve its native wildlife.
They seriously aren’t kidding around. New Zealand is on a war path to remove ANY species that was introduced since it was colonized. We saw several hidden boxes on the ground throughout the park (along with every other national park) that were full of poison for non-native species (the dates aren’t really valid–they always do this!). The plan is to eradicate wild invasive species by 2050.
Zealandia was gorgeous, especially after the clouds let up.
A Kea. They’re the world’s only alpine parrot. Kea are extremely smart and will unzip your backpack when you’re not looking to find snacks, or passports, if you’re not careful.

Our final full day on the North Island was spent with trolls, prosthetics, armor, and massive dollhouses. We had a tour arranged at WETA studios, the special effects studio that has done many films, including Thor Ragnarok, The Hobbit, LOTR, and Narnia, and also does the television series for Thunderbirds. We learned about how some of the props are made, got to see some of the real props for the movie, watched a sword being made for a few minutes, and saw the mini models used for Thunderbirds—which really just looked like massive dollhouses, only they are partially made of recycled parts and trash! So far we had loved New Zealand (minus the massive weta bugs, shudder).

THIS IS IIIIITTTTTTTT!!!!!!! I was looking forward to this day ever since I saw the first movie in 2001. We even got greeted by an eccentric old man, it was everything I hoped for.
I was full of sunshine inside, 
Gollum!! He’s about half my size.
The gift shop is legit. You can find props from the movie, signed lithos (bought one), and other cool memorabilia. Sadly, some of the prices of the replicas are quite high. You can easily find the exact same replica for much cheaper on Amazon. Sting (Frodo’s sword), for example, was $150 more expensive compared to Amazon.
More cool stuff for display.
WETA is still a company that has to abide by its clients’ copyrights and trademarks. As such, they don’t allow any photos until the end of the tour. This is the best I could do for my adoring fans.
WETA is also famous for doing the new Thunderbirds models. While not famous here in the US, it’s fairly popular in the rest of the Commonwealth. An example of how they apply forced-perspective to shots. The tour was incredible because they showed how to take every-day items (like lemon juicers) and make them look like spaceships, robots, or other cool props.
We had some REALLY good food in The Larder, a local restaurant.

We couldn’t imagine why my Grandfather Thorsesen had ever left New Zealand, where he was born. The scenery was beautiful, there was so much to do and see, and most people were really friendly. For me, visiting New Zealand was the start of a part of this trip that will have my learning about the part of my family from New Zealand and Australia. Diego and I were tempted to make New Zealand our ‘there’ to go back to again after future travels.


Had dinner next to the airport – whose slogan is “Middle of Middle Earth”. I love how Kiwis embrace their awesome culture, be it fantasy or Maori.

One Reply to “NZ – N. Island, The Fellowship Continues”

  1. I loved New Zealand! Beautiful place with lot’s of things to do and explore…maybe we could visit NZ together one day!
    The LOTR place and props are amazing too!
    PS: Gostei de ver o Diego “fighting the Orc” !! Fotos bem tiradas e com paisagem bem bonita!

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